What is the significance of the virus changing its character?
All viruses change as they multiply and spread in a population. Viruses that have RNA as genetic material such as SARS•CoV-2 the virus that causes Covid and the Influenza virus mutate faster than the virus that contains DNA. Every time the coronavirus multiplies, there is an opportunity for the virus to change. Thankfully, as the major proteins are not altered, it is not always associated with changes in transmission and infection.
What is genomic sequencing?
Scientists use this to decipher the genetic material found in an organism or virus. This helps us to track the spread of the virus, how it is changing, and how those changes may affect public health. Besides estimating a particular variant’s prevalence in the population, it evaluates how effective medical treatments, such as monoclonal antibodies, are against the variants.
What is mutation? This refers to a single change in a virus’s genetic code. Mutations happen frequently, but only sometimes change the characteristic of the virus.
What can be done in India to protect the population from these variants?
Identifying those with coronavirus infection, finding out the genomic sequence, and noting the person’s travel history are important. Those who have not been vaccinated should do so immediately. Those eligible for the third injection, that is the booster, should have them immediately.
What about other protective measures?
Wearing a mask, social distancing, and using hand sanitizer may be important, particularly in those with poor immunity This includes the elderly, and those with underlying hypertension, diabetes, obes- There is growing concerned about mutations of the coronavirus. There is likely to be an epidemic in China. Any new epidemic brings with it mutations of the virus. The virus thus could behave differently than expected. Continuing our aggressive vaccination programs, genomic testing, and possibly having a fourth booster is the need of the hour.
City and those who have asthma or COPD or malignancy.
What lessons have we learned from the pandemic?
Preventing the disease at all costs is vitally important. Vaccination and personal precautions are mandatory. The vaccine if taken as per recommendations is likely to minimize the severity of Covid infection. Those above 60 years should be extra vigilant at all costs.
What has been the experience of treatment?
Anti-viral drugs including remdesivir were found to be effective only in very early stages. Steroids need to be administered only in selected cases, as the incidence of diabetes and osteoporosis increased remarkably in the last pandemic. There were many sudden unexplained deaths in the early pandemic, This has been a huge challenge to the medical profession. The major lath effects were due to thrombosis leading to sudden heart attack and deaths, paralysis and brain hemorrhage, and gangrene. Use of heparin for a few days and blood thinners like aspirin for at least 6 months after coronavirus infection is recommended. This would depend upon medical advice. Monoclonal antibodies though effective in the early stages are very expensive.
Why has India been able to contain the virus more effectively than China?
Our policy of mass vaccination has been very effective. By the end of 2021 almost 70% of our population was fully vaccinated. Most of them were from the vulnerable population. When the Omicron variant surfaced in November 2021 it passed through India with minimal fatalities. Our vaccines have been proven to be far superior to the Chinese vaccines. Every winter we will see more cases of Coronavirus infections in more than usual numbers. There is nothing to panic about it. However, extra vigilance is required. We need to protect our population that is particularly vulnerable to infections.